If you have been keeping up with our spiritual discipline segments thus far, chances are you have in some way practiced the things we have discussed at some point in your life. But for many of us fasting is unfamiliar territory. It may even be intimidating to think about. Today I want to discuss fasting, primarily in regards to food, and show you how it can serve as a great way for you to connect with God.
History of Fasting
Very briefly, let’s talk about what fasting is. Fasting is simply abstaining from food, or something else that absorbs your focus, for a certain amount of time in order to focus on God. Because of its simplicity, fasting is one of the oldest spiritual disciplines we have records of. When we fast, we are giving up something to open ourselves to the movement of the spirit in our lives.
On top of the spiritual effects of food fasting, it is a well known medical procedure dating back to at least the 5th century. Early Greek doctors would prescribe fasting for patients who exhibited certain symptoms. This very much relates to the earlier article on the connectedness between spiritual health and physical health. As a strictly spiritual practice however, fasting has been recorded much earlier. In all of the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke) we see Jesus prepare for his ministry following his baptism by fasting. We have countless examples of fasting being used all across the world in many different cultures. Ancient Peru, Native Americans, Greek, and Indian people all are recorded to have used fasting as a spiritual discipline. So as you can see, fasting has deep cross-cultural roots used by many to connect with God.
How to Fast
So maybe you want to fast but how do you get started? First, you need to figure out what your fast is going to look like. Are you going to cut out all food or just something specific? How long is your fast going to last both in hours and total duration. Meaning, are you fasting all day and for how many days a week? If you are new to fasting I recommend starting small. Maybe cut out one meal a day and go from there. Personally, I fast for 12 hours a day while having a 12 hour eating window. Once you have your parameters set, make a plan for what you are going to do in times of hunger. This may be the most important step. The whole point of a spiritual discipline is to draw yourself closer to God. So not eating just for the sake of not eating is not necessarily the goal. In fact, if this is your focus, you are probably not fasting, you are most likely dieting. Maybe you will consider praying when you notice you start to get hungry during your fasting window. Perhaps you will open the Bible or even go on a walk. Whatever you decide to do, have a plan because eventually you will get hungry. Ask the Holy Spirit to reveal areas of weakness and provide help and hope in the times you feel like giving up. Surrender your life and this process fully to Jesus Christ. Next, the most obvious step, start your fast. Work within your set window and refrain from eating during that time. Lastly, reflect on how this brought you closer to God. Did you notice that you were turning towards Him in moments of hunger? Did that make you feel closer to Him? As you get more experienced at this you can start to change things like increasing your window or adding things in times of hunger. It is your fast and your spiritual discipline so cater it to your needs!
Things to be aware of
When you fast, your body detoxifies and eliminates toxins from your system. This can cause mild discomfort such as headaches and irritability during withdrawal from caffeine and sugars. And naturally, you will have hunger pains. Take time to rest. Fasting brings about miraculous results. You are following Jesus’ example when you fast. Pray as often as you can throughout the day. Get away from the normal distractions as much as possible and keep your heart and mind set on chasing the heart of God.
Fasting can be intimidating. We are afraid of being hungry. Our bodies do not like it. But as I mentioned earlier, people have been doing it a majority of history. Do not let the fear of hunger convince you not to expand your spiritual discipline horizon and try something new. You may just find out you like it.
Biblical resources for the benefits of fasting
1. Helps us overcome the calamities of life.
Fasting is the Biblical way to humble ourselves (Psalm 35:13; 69:10). Esther fasted when faced with danger (Esther 4:16). Ezra fasted for protection (Ezra 8:21-28). Jehoshaphat fasted in the time of the invasion of the confederated armies of Canaanites and Syrians (2 Chronicles 20:3).
2. Renews our connection with God.
Jesus said that His disciples will fast when He is gone (Mark 2:20). When we fast, we get our hunger back for the presence of God.
3. Empowers us to fulfill God’s calling in our life.
Most of the people in the OT fasted in a crisis; Jesus fasted for His calling. We should not fast only during problems, but also for our purpose. Anna was fasting for the coming of the redemption of Israel. (Luke 2:37).
4. Combats evil.
Once, the disciples of Jesus could not cast out a demon. Jesus said, This kind does not leave, but by prayer and fasting (Matthew 17:21). Fasting helps to break the bonds of wickedness, undo heavy burdens, and empower us to break every yoke (Isaiah 58:6).
We would love to hear from you! Have you ever fasted? What have your experiences with fasting been?